North Main Street Cemetery, Monson, Mass

A view of the North Main Street Cemetery in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The cemetery in 2015:

The area of present-day Monson was first settled in the early 1700s, but at the time it was part of the town of Brimfield.  Among other things, this meant that residents of this area had to bury their dead in Brimfield’s town cemetery, over six miles away from the current center of Monson. The 1960 History of Monson book quotes a petition signed by some of the area’s residents, complaining of “the Badness and length of ye way,” and pointing out that a more convenient burial ground would be of no harm, “it being no matter to the body where it lies when Dead.”  Their request was granted, but in any case the point was soon moot when Monson separated from Brimfield in 1760.

The town’s first large cemetery was established here, just a few hundred yards north of the meeting house.  The first burial was in 1777, and it was used until 1850, at which point the much larger Hillside Cemetery up the road became the town’s primary public cemetery.  Around 250 people were buried here, mostly in the first few decades of the 19th century.  The oldest headstones are carved of red sandstone or slate, and have survived the past few centuries in excellent condition.  The more recent white marble stones, though, have not weathered as well, and many of the inscriptions are no longer legible.

There has not been a burial here since about 50 years before the first photo was taken, but the cemetery is still well-maintained by the town, and it looks essentially the same as it did a century ago; some of the headstones are even still leaning in the same direction today.

Hillside Cemetery Arch, Monson, Mass

The arch at the entrance to Hillside Cemetery, at the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Monson, probably taken around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The arch in 2015:

The mid-1800s saw a major shift in the way cemeteries were designed.  Especially in larger cities, simple graveyards were replaced with elegant, landscaped cemeteries that felt more like a park than a place for burying the dead.  Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, just outside of Boston, helped to pioneer this idea in the 1830s, and soon major cities across the northeast were creating similar cemeteries.  Here in Monson, the town had its own scaled-down version of such cemeteries with Hillside Cemetery, which is seen in these two photos.  It is the final resting place for many of the town’s prominent citizens of the 19th century, many of whom had large family plots with ornate stones carved of Monson granite.

One of the defining features of Hillside Cemetery is this granite arch, which was built in 1897 with funds provided by Emma Field Page Norcross.  Although she lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she had the arch built in memory of her family members who are buried here, including prominent factory owner Cyrus W. Holmes.  Nearly 120 years later, the arch is still standing, and not much else has changed in this scene, aside from the increase in the number of headstones in the background.

Railroad Station, Monson, Mass

The railroad station on Washington Street in Monson, probably in the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The site of the station in 2015:

Railroads first came to Monson in 1839, when the Western Railroad opened between Springfield and Worcester.  It cut across the extreme northwestern corner of the town, though, and the nearest station was in Palmer, about four miles from Monson’s town center.  It would be another 11 years before rail service came to the center of Monson, with the completion of the New London, Willimantic, and Palmer Railroad.  It was renamed the New London Northern Railroad in 1861, and was leased to the Central Vermont Railroad in 1871.  The frequent name changes actually help to date the first photo; one of the cars had the abbreviation “C.V.R.R.” on the back, which indicates it was probably taken before (or very soon after) the company was renamed the Central Vermont Railway in 1899.

Over time, the Central Vermont operated four stations in Monson, but the main station was here on Washington Street, just a little north of the town center.  A 1934 timetable shows two scheduled passenger trains in each direction that stopped here daily; the two northbound trains left at 8:14 in the morning and 4:36 in the afternoon, and the southbound trains at 10:00 in the morning and 6:10 in the evening.  From here, town residents could travel on the line north to the Canadian border in Vermont, or south to New London in Connecticut, where they could connect with trains to New York City and points south.  They could also travel six minutes north to Palmer and take a Boston & Albany train east to Boston or west to upstate New York and beyond.

Passenger rail travel entered a steady decline after World War II, though, and by the 1950s railroads such as the Central Vermont were eliminating passenger service to small towns like Monson. The station was demolished in 1960, and today the site is vacant, although the old granite foundations of the station are still there.  Passenger trains did briefly return to this line from 1989 to 1995, when Amtrak ran their Montrealer train through here, but it did not make any stops in Monson.  Since 1995, the old Central Vermont has been operated by the New England Central Railroad, which runs several freight trains per day through Monson.

Flynt Memorial Fountain, Monson, Mass

The fountain at the corner of Main and Fountain Streets in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The fountain in 2015:

As mentioned in previous posts, the town of Monson became a significant industrial center in the 1800s. Most of this involved manufacturing textile products or straw hats, but the Flynt family built a prosperous business out of quarrying granite.  The company was started around 1825 by Rufus Flynt, and after his death in 1836, his son William took over the company at the age of 18.  Incidentally, the Flynts also had a connection to another prominent family in town.  William’s middle name was Norcross, which was his mother Sarah’s maiden name.  She was the daughter of William Norcross and the sister of Joel Norcross, whose house on Main Street is still standing today.  Joel was the grandfather of Emily Dickinson, which means William was her second cousin, once removed.

William N. Flynt remained in control of the company for the next 39 years, during which time it became one of the area’s leading producers of granite.  Monson buildings such as the Memorial Town Hall, St. Patrick’s Church, the Universalist Church, and the library were built of Flynt granite, as was the Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield along with many other public buildings in the northeast.

Shortly after his retirement, Flynt donated this fountain to the town.  It is located directly across the street from his company store, and it reads “Presented to the town by W.N. Flynt. 1882. Pro bono publico.”  The Latin phrase translates as “for the public good,” and in its early years this fountain served the public good as a watering trough for horses.  Given the marked decline in horse traffic on the streets of Monson, though, it has since been used as a decorative planter.

Arthur D. Ellis House, Monson, Mass

The Arthur D. Ellis House on Green Street in Monson, probably around 1906-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The scene in 2015:

The house in the first photo was the home of Arthur D. Ellis, a prominent factory owner in Monson.  Arthur’s father Dwight W. Ellis opened a textile mill on Bliss Street in 1871, and six years later Arthur became a partner in the company.  He took over ownership after his father’s death in 1899, and this house was probably built sometime after 1906, as Ellis had a house burn down that year. In 1908, Ellis built a second factory for the company, just down the hill and across Main Street from here, within sight of the house.

Arthur died in 1916, and the house remained in the Ellis family until it burned in the 1930s.  Following the fire, the present house was completed in 1939.  Although it is very different architecturally from the original house, there are some features left.  As seen in the second photo, the retaining wall and granite posts are still there, and just outside of the camera frame to the right is the original carriage house, which matches the architectural style of the old house.

The under the leadership of Arthur’s son Dwight, the company continued to be successful, supplying cloth to several different foreign royal families and producing the upholstery for the White House’s cars.  However, the company entered into decline in the 1950s, and in 1961 Dwight committed suicide.  A year later, the company went out of business.

The old wooden mill that the first Dwight Ellis built in 1871 remained vacant until it was demolished in 2000, and Arthur’s brick mill has gone through several ownership changes but is still standing on Main Street.  Arthur’s grandson, also named Dwight, sold the house in 1962 to E. Russell Sprague, who served as the president of Tambrands, Inc. from 1976 to 1981, and as the company’s chairman from 1981 to 1987.  Today, the house is operated as the Lord Manor bed & breakfast.

Main Street, Monson, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near State Street in Monson, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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Main Street in 2015:

This section of Main Street was once known as “Millionaires’ Mile,” and it featured a number of elegant 19th century homes that were owned by prominent factory owners and other businessmen in Monson.  In previous posts I highlighted two neighboring homes that belonged to the Norcross family and Cushman family, and this photo was taken just north of them, in front of Cushman Hall.

Many of the homes from the first photo are still standing today, despite over a century of change and a devastating tornado that passed directly through this scene in 2011.  The trees hide some of the houses in the first photo, but nearly all of them from the foreground to the crest of the hill are nearly identical Greek Revival homes that date back to around the 1840s.  This style was particularly popular in industrialized New England cities like Hartford, New Haven, and New Bedford, but it can also be seen here in Monson, where similar industrial growth was occurring on a smaller scale.

The two houses on the far left, which are painted white and yellow in the 2015 photo, are essentially identical, and they were both built in 1842.  The one on the left was the home of Rufus and Sarah Fay, and the yellow one to the right was the home of Charles and Mary Ann Merrick.  Aside from being family, though, the two men were also business partners; they owned a straw hat factory across the street, where the Monson Town Offices are today.  Together they, and later their children, ran Merrick & Fay for over 50 years, and the company was a major employer in the town.  Their sons sold the company in 1891, and the factory burned down in 1912, but their twin houses are still standing on Main Street.

Other wealthy 19th century residents of this section of Main Street included Edward Cushman, who lived in the house on the far right.  He left it to the town in his will, and today it is the Monson Senior Center.  Further up the hill, the Victorian mansion just to the left of center was the home of Cyrus W. Holmes, a factory owner who lived in the Victorian mansion seen on the hill just to the left of center.

In more than 100 years since the first photo was taken, Main Street has seen many changes.  A trolley line was added and later removed, the road was paved, automobiles replaced both the horse-drawn carriages and the trolleys, and the 1938 hurricane destroyed most of the elms that once lined both sides of the street.   The street is no longer filled with millionaire businessmen either, but their former homes help contribute to the character of downtown Monson and serve as a reminder of the town’s industrial history.