Rochester Historical Society Reopens

            Nestled along an old roadway on the outskirts of modern-day Rochester stands the East Rochester Church, once the home of a Methodist congregation. Today it is still stately in its Greek Revival old age and still gives people a place to go and reflect on the town’s long history. It is in this manner of reflection and observing items left behind by our ancestors that we come to understand ourselves better or, at the very least, have a grand time checking out really old stuff.

            On May 22, the Rochester Historical Society opened the doors to the church museum at 355 County Road that the society has owned since 2003. For the princely sum of $1, the society became the owner of the 1857 church and the contents there in: namely pews, lectern, and the church’s organ. But as member Connie Eshbach stated, that $1 bargain has cost them far more in upkeep over the years.

            Thusly when the world shut it doors last March, things got a bit tight for the organization that depends on donations generated from visitor revenue. Now, as it appears the U.S. is on the verge of reopening the country, the RHS is back to planning public events. Hosting seasonal yard and bake sales and opening the church museum doors started on May 22.

            In preparation for “A Curator’s Show Part 1: Treasures of the Past,” the current exhibit that will run until September, Eshbach and fellow member Susan LaFleur plumbed the depths of the building’s cubbyholes, uncovering a vast selection of donated items not previously put on display.

            In one corner inside a glass curio case, itself a piece of history, sat a handwritten thank you note from one Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dated 1882. In another area was a notebook from 1795, and books written by the Leonard sisters including one by Caroline Leonard Goodenough with the titillating title, “Legends, Loves and Loyalties of Old New England.”

            One almost feels that by cracking open the book secrets from past liaisons will spill out. Alas, that is not the case. According to LaFleur, “It’s a genealogical study of her family, really.” Leonard Goodenough’s sister, Mary Leonard, is responsible in part for a book simply titled, “Mattapoisett and Old Rochester,” a history of the region long out of print. Mary Leonard also wrote “The Days of The Swamp-Angle.” That one may be worth a second trip to the museum.

            You’ll also find snippets of the history of the post office. Now, you may think this a bit on the droll side but see what the society members have put together from oral and written histories.

            They share on a descriptive label, “According to Mary Hall Leonard, acknowledged as Rochester’s historian, there was a romantic tragedy associated with the early post office run by Nathan Willis.” As the story goes, Willis’ daughter didn’t like the fact that one Miss Bashie Holmes was receiving love letters from an unnamed suitor. Willis’ daughter made sure the letters were never received by Holmes. The tragedy is that apparently Holmes died an unmarried matron feeling spurned by her boyfriend. But fate has a way of evening the score. Willis’ daughter was reported to have had “a short and strenuous marriage,” dying at the age of 30 in 1821.

            There is every manner of unique item to study and ponder over in the exhibit. In yet another corner is a shelf covered with Civil Defense booklets, and nearby stands an old ballot box looking as if it was repurposed from a crate of fruit, along with items left behind from a hat factory once upon a time located near Snipatuit Pond. And let us not forget – a flogger. It is as evil looking in real life as it is in the movies.

            The exhibit is sure to excite the imagination and inform those seeking to further their local history. And it’s no small task to ensure that future generations will also have this very special historical gem to enjoy and learn from.

            The Rochester Historical Society members are a team of totally invested people. They work hard to support the needs of the building that is home to their collections and a place to hold lectures and events that brings history to life not only for residents but anyone wishing to learn more about Rochester, its past, and its people.

            Eshbach said, “Our mission is to preserve and share Rochester’s history through lectures, press releases, and displaying historical items.”

             If you attend an event at the society’s church museum building, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Woodside Cemetery gently embracing the exterior of the church grounds like an arm wrapped tenderly around a departed loved one. There you’ll find Lucy and Mary resting for all eternity, along with women whose fantastical names speak old New England – Resolva, Drugilla, Emerintha, and Sarepta.

            The May 22 show was sponsored in part by the Rochester Cultural Council. To learn more including when the church museum is open, call 508-295-8909.

By Marilou Newell

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