From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

Hopefully, during our Historic Fair with a Colonial Flair on June 22 and 23, we introduced some of our younger residents to the idea that history can be both interesting and fun. Watching them march in formation behind a colonial drummer was a highlight of the fair. Without the funds we received from the Rochester Cultural Council for the exhibit and the funds from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for the fair, it would be close to impossible for our small, membership-supported historical society to bring these bigger events to the community.

            Now back to history which has enough quirks to make it interesting for almost anybody. In the course of my research for the exhibit, I learned that the invention of “Silly Putty”, a stretchy, bouncy substance was invented by mistake. A scientist, working for the war effort in 1943, was searching for an inexpensive substitute for synthetic rubber. He mixed two chemicals together and rather than rubber, he created a new toy.

            John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were two patriots who bonded over the need for separation from England and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Later their friendship fell apart when the new United States was split between two polarizing factions. Twice the men ran for President with Adams winning the first contest, 71-68 and Jefferson winning four yrs. later, 73-68.

            Later in their lives a mutual friend brought the two together and they wrote many letters back and forth until their deaths. Here is another history quirk. Both men died within 5 hours of each other on July 4, 1826, 50 yrs. to the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

            Here in Rochester, Benjamin Gurney was born on July 4, 1743. At that time July 4th was just like any other day in the month. Gurney fought in the Revolutionary War, one of the many men from Rochester. What makes me point him out is another one of those historic quirks. Gurney survived the war, returned to Rochester and married. The picture shows his tombstone in what is now Woodside Cemetery. When Benjamin Gurney died, it was on July 4, 1828 and on a day that was now a national holiday.

            He was the first to be buried here. When his family chose this location, they did not realize that the area would become a community center for almost two centuries.

By Connie Eshbach

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